A former employee at a battery manufacturing plant who was fired for allegedly damaging a company laptop could not establish a causal connection between his termination and a disabling injury he suffered at work years earlier.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Tuesday affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment order in Bruce Frymoyer’s case against East Penn Manufacturing Co.
In May 2012, Frymoyer, a maintenance mechanic, injured his left knee at work. He underwent surgery, was on disability leave for six to eight months, and was approved for workers’ compensation with the assistance of his employer, according to Third Circuit Judge Kent Jordan’s opinion.
In 2013, Frymoyer began experiencing knee pain and sought workers’ compensation again. He was denied, and hired a lawyer to pursue the claim. In 2014, he had a second surgery and was out of work for several months, but was restored to his position with the same pay when he returned.
Frymoyer claimed that even though he was restored to his position, he was disciplined for taking time off to recover from his second surgery, Jordan said. Later, Frymoyer was accused of throwing an object at a company laptop, damaging it. He denied the account, but was subsequently fired.
After Frymoyer filed suit, the court concluded that no reasonable jury would find a link between his firing and the injury.
On appeal, Frymoyer argued that East Penn did not argue the nonexistence of a causal link between his firing and either his disability or his workers’ compensation claim.
However, Jordan said, “It is true that East Penn’s argument in the district court was not captured in a standalone section of a brief labeled ‘causal link.’ The briefing does, however, plainly state that the ‘plaintiff cannot establish a causal connection … which is a required element … of wrongful termination.’”
He added, “East Penn thus raised the lack of a causal link with respect to both the federal and state law claims.”
Frymoyer also argued the district court set too high a standard for proving a prima facie case and that he presented sufficient evidence to establish a claim that he was fired on the basis of his injury.
“There is no evidence in the record showing that East Penn did not believe that Frymoyer committed the alleged misconduct. East Penn justified Frymoyer’s termination based on the written statement of his co-worker identifying him as the employee who wantonly damaged the laptop,” Jordan said.
“In short, East Penn offered a legitimate explanation for the termination and Frymoyer has failed to produce sufficient evidence to raise a factual question regarding whether the reason was pre-textual,” Jordan said. “Summary judgment based on the lack of a causal link was thus appropriate.”
Frymoyer is represented by Fort Washington-based Marc E. Weinstein.
“We congratulate opposing counsel on a job well done. Of course, we are disappointed the 3rd Circuit panel did not share our point of view, but so it goes in litigation,” Weinstein said in an email. “You can’t persuade judges that you’re correct all the time. But the battle for workplace fairness will continue, waged by my firm and many other fine plaintiffs’ employment lawyers.”
East Penn is represented by Andrew N. Howe of the Spruce Law Group, who also did not respond to a request for comment.